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Bud Light Spirit of Freedom Gondola
Bud Light Spirit of Freedom Capsule

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This object is on display in the Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery exhibition at the National Mall building.


Bud Light Spirit of Freedom Capsule
First Solo Flight Around the World by Balloon

Steve Fossett, an adventurous, Chicago-based aviator, launched the Bud Light Spirit of Freedom balloon from Northam, Australia, on June 19, 2002. Fourteen days and 19 hours later, on July 4, he landed in Queensland, Australia, to become the first person to make a solo flight around the world in a balloon. During the trip he traveled 32,963 kilometers (20,385 miles), reached speeds of up to 322 kilometers (204 miles) per hour, and flew as high as 10,580 meters (34,700 feet).

The Bud Light Spirit of Freedom balloon was a combination helium and hot-air design called a Roziere, in honor of Pil√Ętre de Rozier, who made the first manned balloon flight in 1783. It was designed by Donald Cameron of Cameron Balloons Ltd. of Bristol, England. Thirty-eight tanks of propane and ethane fuel hanging beside the capsule fed the burners on top, which heated the air which in turn warmed the helium to increase lift. Fossett steered the balloon by ascending or descending to find a wind blowing in the right direction. The balloon was fitted with the Comstock Autopilot, which automatically fired the burners to maintain a constant altitude and to allow Fossett to sleep.

Tim Cole, Project Manager for the flight, designed and built the gondola, an unpressurized cube constructed of a lightweight composite of Kevlar and carbon, with a plastic bubble hatch on top. Lithium batteries powered the electronic equipment. A custom designed heater kept the temperature inside the capsule at 4-21 C (40-70 F).

The satellite-based Global Positioning System provided the precise location of the balloon during the flight. Communication between Fossett and Mission Control at Washington University in St. Louis was by means of the Inmarsat C satellite system, with a satellite telephone as a backup. Fossett also had radios for communicating with air traffic controllers and with other aircraft. The gondola was equipped with an Emergency Position Indicating Rescue Beacon (EPIRB) to assist search and rescue efforts.

Living in a space the size of a closet for over two weeks was not easy. For much of the flight Fossett cruised at over 8,000 meters (26,240 feet) and breathed oxygen from a liquid oxygen system. The gondola was equipped with a bench and a sleeping bag. Fossett averaged three hours of sleep a day, usually in the form of cat naps lasting 45 minutes or less. He ate military rations called MREs ("meals ready to eat"). The MRE's were heated with chemical heat packs, which were activated by adding water.

The flight was Fossett's sixth solo attempt since 1996 to achieve this extraordinarily difficult goal. On one of those flights, in August, 1998, he plunged 8900 meters (29,192 feet) into the Coral Sea when his balloon ruptured in a thunderstorm. He was rescued after 23 hours in a life raft.
In finally achieving his goal, Steve Fossett demonstrated perseverance, determination, courage, and great skill in the air. He expressed the hope that his success would inspire others to "try and achieve something important to them."

Gift of Steve Fossett.

Gift of Steve Fossett.

Owner: Steve Fossett

Dimensions: Approximate: 132 x 94 x 65in., 600lb. (335.28 x 238.76 x 165.1cm, 272.2kg)

Inventory number: A20030128000

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